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Has anyone ever attended an inquest?


Twinspark
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Only I got the letter this weekend 'inviting me' (well, telling me, really) that I am to attend South Manchester Coroner's Court for my mum's inquest hearing.

 

I tried to get out of it - I've given and signed a statement, and I don't really want to hear any more of it. What happened, happened, I know what the death certificate says - and that's enough for me.

 

What am I likely to hear at the inquest? - I'm assuming it's not going to be a particularly pleasant experience.

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Yes, I attended a very close friend's inquest in New York. I'm sure it's different legally there to here, but I don't understand the differences.

 

 

I attended as I was 'asked' as a foreign entity, I got the impression that had I been subject to local law it would have been mandatory. How did I find it? Not as terrible as I expected. They were very explicit about processes, outcomes, and specifics, but they did it in a sensitive way. For example I was asked to talk about things, and they were very explicit that my position was to provide as much info as possible, not to feel I was under duress or there to destroy myself mentally.

 

They treated me very well, with respect, and sensitively.

 

I would never attend one by choice again. Ever. It just added pain after pain after upset. The outcome was the same, they just made the journey more difficult.

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This is my experience from the 1998 inquest into my step-Dad's suicide.  

 

It came in two phases.  First, a couple of days after the death, there was a hearing to formally open the inquest.  I was one of the family members that had identified the body for the police and the nearest thing we have to a lawyer in the family, so I was the one to give evidence.   That simply consisted of saying who I was, confirming my relationship to him, and confirming that the body I had seen was indeed him.  With that done, the Coroner thanked me and announced that the proceedings would be stayed until a later date.  I think your Mum died a few months back (?) so this stage is probably done now.  

 

The next stage was the full hearing on the inquest, to determine the cause of death.  I'm guessing this is the bit you're about to do.  In the intervening time, the police had finished their investigation, the pathologists had done all their tests and so on, and the Coroner's Officer had interviewed Mum and taken a statement from her about the later stages of his life, what he was doing, how he was (etc) up to the point when he died.

 

This bit is (in theory) a Court process.  Ours was held in a room that looked like a Courtroom, with a witness box and an elevated bit at the front for the Coroner to sit on and look down on everyone.  There was a pit in the middle where half a dozen noisy, scruffy twats were sat with notepads - Mum was quite upset to realise they were the reporters from the local rag.  We sat in a public seating area off to one side, and the professional witnesses sat at the back.  So it looked just like a courtroom.  However, there was a big difference to normal Court proceedings; instead of there being two lawyers both trying to prove their version of events (and therefore prove that the other lot's witnesses are lying), this is an investigative process led by the Coroner.  It is his/her job to decide what the (legal) cause of death was, and s/he can do what investigations s/he thinks necessary.  That means the witnesses will be called one by one and asked to confirm that their statements are correct, asked whether there is anything they want to add, and then the Coroner will ask them any questions s/he has about the death.  There isn't someone from an opposing "side" who is trying to trip you up and prove you're untrustworthy - there is just the Coroner who will listen to your statement and ask about anything s/he doesn't understand or wasn't covered in the statement.  Coroners deal with grieving families all the time, so you'd expect them to be gentle and sympathetic in the way they talk to you, and the one we had certainly was.

 

As it's a Courtroom, though, the ushers announced when the Coroner was about to arrive and everyone stood up while he walked in and then sat down again once he had.  In our case, the first witness was the pathologist who confirmed the medical causes of the death and then got a telling-off from the Coroner because his report only arrived a few days before the inquest and several months after the death.  Then there were the firemen who were the first responders and found the body, followed by the police officers who investigated the death.  

 

Then they called for Mum.  Now, Mum wasn't at all up to giving evidence, and we had discussed that with the Coroner's Officer when he came to take the statement.  He said that provided the Coroner didn't have questions for her, it would be ok to take the statement and for him to read it out.  She had turned up on that basis, and really wasn't ready to be a witness.  So I stood up where I was (just in the public seating area) and politely explained who I was, that she was here, and that she could give evidence if the Coroner wanted her to, but that the Coroner's Officer had said he could read out her statement instead and that we would prefer that if the Coroner was happy with it.  The Coroner said that was ok, he would hear the statement read out, so the Coroner's Officer got up to do that.  There weren't any questions that the Coroner wanted to ask her, fortunately.  

 

Clearly, someone had forgotten to make a note of that promise, but the point is that the Coroner was understanding and willing to listen.  If you have a procedural point, just bear in mind that your in the Coroner's gaff, s/he is in charge, so don't tell them what you want them to do, just calmly explain to them what you would appreciate them doing if it's possible and if it's ok with them.

 

I think that was all the witnesses, so then there was a short break during which the Coroner went out (stand up) (sit down) and then came back about ten minutes later (stand up) (sit down) to say that Dad took his own life while the balance of his mind was disturbed and that the death certificate would be issued pronto.  IIRC, he then said something nice to Mum to thank her for coming.

 

So... dress smart, be on time, stay calm, and relax - no-one is out to get you.  You will have to hear about it all over again, and that isn't fun, but it is a process that has to be gone through where there is a sudden death.  Everyone there is used to dealing with families who have recently lost someone, and we found them all to be sympathetic and understanding.  For us, it was like the system finally closing the book and saying "that's that, then", and letting us move on.  

 

Best wishes +++

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Entirely hypothsesising here, as I've never been in the position, but would it be possible that you find you distance yourself from the emotional attachment during the technical and legal proceedings, perhaps moreso if you have a general interest, which might make the inquest itself more bearable, only to endure another emotional wave afterwards when, figuratively speaking, you remember the name on the death certificate and what they meant to you?

 

Just a thought. 

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Well, I did have the distinct advantages that:

 

(a) he was a stepfather not an actual father

(b) I don't think he liked me all that much, and

© the feeling was mutual, especially so at that stage.

 

So when you talk about the emotional attachment and what he meant to me,... ummm :coffee:

 

What made the hearing really hard was the effect of it on my Mum and my sisters (who were his biological daughters).  That also gave me a kind of strength, though, as I knew I was the least upset and so had to be the one to carry everyone else through.  

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I have as a professional to give my views on a matter.

It was somewhat intimidating at the outset but otherwise a fair and reasonable scenario.

may have been a different matter had I been "involved" in the case of course!

There are almost always reporters there - don't let that phase you.

Best wishes +++

Edited by Waylander
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As a bike marshal at Cadwell and Donnington the brother in law used to attend far too often. Less so in recent years, or maybe he just doesn't mention them anymore.

They are formal, factual and quite sensitive. The final necessary part of the close down of a tragic event. On the bright side, it will help bring closure to an element of your mums life that I'd think you would want to put to bed.

You can then get on with the nice memories like holding hands, being walked to school, or being hugged. There's a whole heap of great memories somewhere, and getting rid of the shite ones has to be good.

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